Creating a playlist seems like an easy task. It can be as simple as throwing a variety of songs that fit the desired “vibe” together, often resulting in a mediocre compilation with an equally thoughtless title, like “Summer Bops” or “Bangerz.”
For those who are tickled by the idea of crafting a master-level playlist to impress your peers or that special someone, this guide will explain how to craft the ultimate playlist for any mood. Prepare to have the most productive mega-brain study sessions and sweat-inducing dance breaks. If you plan on making a sad playlist with this guide, prepare to cry your heart out.
As Rob from Hulu’s Original TV series “High Fidelity” once said, “A playlist is a delicate art … you get to say what you want to say without actually saying it.” The best way to handle such a task is to break it up into steps.
Step 1: Choose a theme.
A theme could be a feeling you want to evoke, like walking through a field of flowers on a bright summer day, or a curation of songs that remind you of a certain movie or show. Your theme can be as simple as a color or as complex as the Matrix.
When curating this playlist, the key is to always stick with the theme. If you want to convey dancing in a meadow on a sunny day, do not throw in “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed. That is not only off-theme but also a major mood killer.
Of course, some themes are more flexible. You can have an upbeat, happy song one moment and a sadder, slower song the next, but they can fit the same mood or idea. And for the love of music, try not to make the theme so blatantly obvious that it is boring.
Give the listener some pizzazz. If you want your listener to picture a field of wildflowers, consider what it would be like to be there. What do you see? How do you feel? What are you thinking about? What do you want your listener to see, feel, and think?
Step 2: Pay attention to BPM
Faster songs evoke positive emotions, energizing the listener. Slower songs, on the other hand, evoke negative emotions like sadness. Choosing the right pace of music can elevate your curation and aid in telling a story.
The key is to ease into faster songs if you plan on playing your songs in order. Instead of having a slow song and a fast one right after, play a song that is 60 beats per minute (BPM), then 90 BPM, then 120 BPM, and transition smoothly. Easing between higher and lower BPM songs ensures listeners are not caught off guard when they’re listening to a gentle Sufjan Stevens song and all of a sudden 100 gecs is blasting hyper pop.
A quick and easy way to find the BPM of a song is to count how many beats are in the first fifteen seconds of the song and multiply that number by four.
Back to our meadow example — if you want your listener to feel the excitement of approaching the beautiful blooming scene, the song you choose is likely a faster tempo. As the listener sits under the shade of a willow tree, they begin to reflect on life. The tempo of the subsequent song might be slower, evoking a sense of self-reflection.
Step 3: The Sandwich Rule
What would a grilled cheese sandwich be without bread? Cheese. That’s it. The top and bottom of the sandwich are crucial for holding the concept together and classifying it as a sandwich. Just like a grilled cheese, the most important parts of a playlist are the very first and very last songs.
The first song sets the tone for the whole set, and the last one leaves the listener thinking. The goal is to start and finish off strong. If you want to reel in an audience and appeal to more eager ears, you might start off with a song people are already familiar with so they are motivated to keep listening. You could alternatively start out with an upbeat, faster song to get the crowd roaring. As your playlist ebbs and flows between songs of various tempos, you might decide to end with either a slower reflective song or another crowd-pleaser.
Even if you decide to hit shuffle on the playlist, you might still consider choosing a good first and last song. If you can leave a lasting impression on the listener, you are doing something right.
Step 4: Avoid Repeating Artists
Imagine you are at a club or dance party. You absolutely despise listening to country-folk music. After getting through one country folk song you remain hopeful that the DJ will play something different, something at least tolerable. What comes on next is yet another, horrid monstrosity of a song of the same exact genre. But the pain does not stop here. The DJ has taken a special liking to country folk and will stop at nothing to absolutely destroy your ears.
The point here is that playing the same exact genre or artist over and over again can be repetitive and cause some listeners to tune out. Avoid this by mixing it up. Do not be afraid to cross the dark and daunting chasm of genres. You might find that one artist who specializes in disco-funk reminds you of a whole lot of others known more for indie rock.
Many feelings and thoughts can be conveyed in several different ways, and finding those connections will make your playlist so much more meaningful.
Step 5: The Good ‘Ol Element of Surprise
You do not want to bore your audience of listeners by being too predictable. Consider including moments where the listener is shocked by your utter musical genius. Try experimenting with songs that transition into each other seamlessly or including songs on the same playlist that one would not think to piece together. Once again, making those obscure connections can lead to the creation of a unique masterpiece. Now get out there, and share that musical genius with the world!